2011 see the 20 th anniversary of perhaps Britain’s nicest festival, Guilfest. Situated in the middle of the rather posh town of Guildford, Surrey, it offers a very wide selection of music and the arts, often being referred to as a “family” festival, with none of the drugs and naked high jinks of Big Brother festivals such as Glastonbury, held just a few weeks previous. Mind you, there certainly seems to be more and more younger people going each year, and on a bright sunny Friday the vast numbers of skinny young girls in very short shorts and not much else is enough to make a healthy man glad that there is no such thing as the Thought Police. Tents are erected, flags are flown, and I am uncomfortably aware that any of the young people are shouting out my name. Okay, I know that Rock United is THE website for anyone who is anyone, but this is nuts. It seems that a couple of years ago (probably at Glastonbury) people started shouting out “ALAN!” and it sort of caught on. This is all fine and jolly, but if that’s your name it’s just plain weird, and I find myself looking about in bewilderment like a dog in a whistle testing factory.

In all honesty, I haven’t heard of the majority of bands that are on this weekend, and although there is a tent named The Big Cheese Cave that is hosting the likes of Funeral For A Friend, My Passion and Skindred over the weekend, I just am not in the mood for sitting in a sweltering tent with a bunch of spotty youths watching bands that I only have a passing interest in. Mind you, as it’s still early I do pop in for an eyeful of Voodoo Johnson, who belt out a very satisfying half an hour in front of a small but increasing audience. It’s not the best time for a spot, but they do well, especially with the inclusion of a nicely low down and dirty new song called “Dogs Of War”.

Back in the sunshine, I get a chance to wander round the festival, which has been set up in a local park. You can walk all round it in ten minutes, but there’s plenty jammed in. The Main Stage is the obvious focal point, set up just the right distance away from the smaller second stage so that you can get from one to the other in a minute or two but the sound doesn’t interfere at all. There’s a loads of food traders about, as well as a massive bar with a disappointingly small choice of drinks. As well as a few small chill out type tents, there’s an acoustic tent, a theatre tent, a dance tent, a vintage fayre, a comedy tent and much more. There’s even a Pokemon area, which is unsurprising when you see that either stage of the main stage there is a massive ad for said piss poor videogame series, instead of video screens. Kids are catered for in the Kidzone, and sensibly no adults are allowed unless they are with a kid. I have no photographs of this particular area, as a grown man snapping small children is rather frowned on these days for some reason…

I have found the most happiness in the past by using the afternoons to chill out on the comedy tent, saving the evening for band related stuff, and settle in for the day. As in previous years the quality is high, and by the time we get kicked out I feel ready for the main events. Tonight, they happen to be a very varied bunch, as I sample The Popes, Adam Ant and Roger Daltrey. The Popes are the band formed by Shane MacGowan after he left/was booted out of The Pogues. Unsurprisingly, they bash out some highly entertaining Paddy Beat songs that have people jigging and drinking in equal amounts. Whilst MacGowan may have been the driving force behind their formation, he isn’t missed at all, with Paul Mad Dog McGuinness fronting a band that deserve to be watched on their own merits. Great feckin’ stuff. Headliner on the main stage is none other than Roger Daltrey, who is currently touring on the back of the classic “Tommy” album by The Who, although with none of the other members present. Let’s be honest, he doesn’t need them, and he cuts a fine figure on stage for a man who has recently turned 67. Although dogged a little by a recurring and irritating sound fault that blasts out a deafening “BOOOP” every so often, Daltrey doesn’t let it get to him and puts on a great show. As well as Tommy, he also throws in some classic Who tracks, and I can’t tell you how fantastic it is to hear “The Real Me” live on stage. Swinging the microphone like a slingshot, Daltrey delivers a well received set, confessing at the end that the earlier sound fault had almost deafened him!

Over on the second stage is Adam Ant, and I don’t know about the rest of Europe, but between 1980 and 1982 the man was a God in the UK charts. Although they started as a punk outfit, Adam & The Ants became as mainstream as it gets, standing out from the pack with very catchy songs and a unique double drum sound. It’s nice to see two drumkits on stage, and even nicer to hear “Plastic Surgery”, a very early track, belted out at the head of the set. The crowd is full of people in their forties with white stripes across their faces, and as the hits are filtered through the set a good time is had by all. Adam Ant himself has had some very public ups and downs, but you wouldn’t think it as he struts about dressed as a camp pirate, dancing and posing like there’s no tomorrow, but more crucially doing a good job on the vocals. Not too shabby at all! After the last chords have died away, it’s back to the comedy tent for some after hours funny filth, then the rather tricky job of sleeping whilst all about art shouting “ALAN!”

If I’ honest, Saturday’s line up isn’t all that exciting for me, with the most enticing performer being Steve Harley, who is wedged into second place on stage 2 by pop puppet Peter Andre. Acknowledging a few shouts of “ALAN!” I manage to spend the day chilling once more to some great comedians, as well as some pretty shit ones. Worthy of note is Earl Okin, whose ironic lounge lizard musical comedy is about as welcome as Gary Glitter at a parent/teacher night. Whoever thought he would work in a festival tent needs their head examined, frankly. Best of all are Welsh funnyman Dan Thomas, and the experienced and hilarious Nick Revell. There’s a lot of happy kids in bad clothing about as the rain continues to fall on and off, because UK teeny sensation N-Dubz are playing, but since I’d rather gargle with glass than even gaze upon them, I hide away in the acoustic tent, where some very talented people get up and keep things going. It seems wherever you look there is somebody doing something impressive, and it’s a great place to just wander about to see what will spring up next. It’s half eight by the time Steve Harley appears, still backed by Cockney Rebel after all these years. Although not exactly rocking, Harley does play some great music, perfectly suited for a warm Summer night. Unfortunately, this is a damp Summer night, but he still manages to pull it off, from opener “Here Comes The Sun” through to inevitable closer “Come Up And See Me (Make Me Smile)”. As the scarily enthusiastic and massive crowd gathers for Peter Andre, I wander off to catch Razorlight, who are headlining the main stage. Although their radio friendly indie rock is agreeable enough and certainly has some good hooks, it can’t just be me that gets bored with this sort of thing after about half an hour. I even decide to check out Peter Andre and his adoring fans, and am horrified to see he seems to be a pretty darned good performer, but the music is so shit I can’t stay. A nice sit down and a cup of tea in the Green Tea tent soon soothes me, after which I watch more late night comedy and wander about the campsite getting more and more drunk, coming across some lovely rock people who are happy to sit and talk bollocks for an hour or two. Sweet.

Sunday is, traditionally a day of rest, and I have never been one to buck tradition. Musically, there’s once again a few bands that tickle my fancy, and I take a rare break from the comedy tent to take a look at Simon Friend, who can usually be seen with The Levellers, but makes a very welcome solo appearance today, singing mostly his own stuff with a couple of Levellers tracks thrown in to keep the faithful happy. Although his songs are almost uniformly as happy as a bag of dead kittens lyrics-wise, for some reason it doesn’t matter, because they are so well written I still manage to enjoy myself. Friend has a great, gravelly voice (not a million miles away from Ricky Warwick on his solo album) and his utter sincerity is obvious to all. Against all the odds I have to say that this half an hour set with no bells and whistles ends up being the most fun of the weekend, despite the drizzle, the people who look like they should have Jack Russell terriers on a bit of rope, and the political content of the tunes. Later on I manage to sample some rather over the top pop genius from Erasure, as well as ex Stranglers man Hugh Cornwall (who was rather good but a bit monotone), but it’s Simon Friend who wins the weekend for me, and without even the use of a fiddle player! We decide to leave without seeing P.I.L, a band who required every photographer to sign a 3 page contract before they could take pics, giving the band’s management full veto over what was printed. Load of old cock, if you ask me, and it just fuels my existing contempt for John Lydon, so it’s not a wasted effort. On the main stage is James Blunt, and the less said about him the better, so we pack up, bugger off and proceed to get totally and utterly lost after a detour away from the motorway takes to a small village in the arse end of Surrey and challenges us to get home with no map, no streetlights and a shit satnav on a mobile phone. Ah well, it could be worse - we could have been to Glastonbury.

Review and photos by Alan Holloway
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